He’s picked up 6 points in a new poll. Ann Coulter is openly pining for him. To get this attention, all Rob Simmons had to do to was quit campaigning for the U.S. Senate.
“This is marvelous,” Simmons said Thursday night. “Maybe if I took a long trip to China, I might move out front. I think there is a lot to say about not bothering the voters.”
Simmons said he is enjoying the attention that escaped him while he was an active candidate, but not so much that he is tempted to reactivate his campaign for the Republican nomination.
“I’ve had numerous people call, not just today or yesterday, but over the last week. I am flattered,” Simmons said. “But my position remains the same. Yes, I am on the ballot. No, I am not actively campaigning.”
On Thursday, Simmons was treated to a Quinnipiac University poll that showed him moving from 23 percent to 29 percent in a Republican primary with Linda McMahon. She was favored by 45 percent, down from 49–a net gain of 10 percentage points for Simmons.
Coulter, the lawyer and conservative commentator who grew up in New Canaan, posted a column on the Human Events web site, arguing that only Simmons can beat the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.
She urged Sarah Palin, whose endorsed candidates did well in primaries across the country Tuesday, to back Simmons.
“Otherwise, Republicans can kiss the possibility of a major upset in Connecticut goodbye,” Coulter wrote.
Simmons, 67, a decorated Vietnam veteran and former three-term congressman, exited the race after losing the Republican State Convention endorsement to McMahon, the former chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Without the party’s backing, Simmons compared running against McMahon’s money – she’s put $16 million into the campaign and promises to reach $50 million — to the futility of Pickett’s Charge during the Civil War.
Simmons had warned Republicans for months that the WWE’s history of racy story lines and steroid abuse eventually would catch up to McMahon. Now, Coulter is picking up the same argument.
“Running a professional wrestler in the richest, most highly educated state in the nation is going to force voters to hold their noses and vote for the Democrat,” Coulter wrote.
Simmons said he was shocked and flattered by the column.
Previously, Rich Lowry of the National Review wrote that WWE was to popular culture what BP is to the Gulf of Mexico, “a relentless gusher of pollution.” As for McMahon, she is “a schlock merchant of the first order.”
Ed Patru, McMahon’s communication director, said his candidate cannot be so easily caricatured, despite the literary efforts of Lowry and Coulter.
“When people meet her, they come away convinced that she is a strong fiscal conservative with precisely the kind of real world business experience that is needed in Washington. She has growing momentum in Connecticut because voters here recognize she’s authentic and they believe she can win, and frankly Linda isn’t running to represent the professional commentators in Washington and New York,” Patru said.
The national attention comes after the seemingly invincible Blumenthal was forced to apologize for misstating his Vietnam era military record last month. Two polls have found that a majority of voters believe he misspoke, not lied. But his numbers are now in the mid-50s, not north of 60 percent as they had been.
Simmons thought the Vietnam story had clinched the GOP nomination for him. His rationale was that a strong Republican could now compete with a wounded Blumenthal without megabucks, and a Vietnam vet would provide a compelling contrast.
“The only thing I couldn’t bring to the table was a $30 million checkbook, and my party decided at their party convention that the checkbook was the qualification they really wanted,” Simmons said. “I can’t compete with that. That’s their decision.”
The new Quinnipiac poll showed that voters still have a favorable view of Simmons: 36 percent have a favorable opinion, while 13 percent view him unfavorably and 50 percent knew too little to express an opinion.
By comparison, McMahon’s was viewed favorably by 38 percent and unfavorably by 35 percent. A quarter said they didn’t know enough to say.
Only 34 percent of voters said McMahon has the right experience to be a senator, while 52 percent said she does not. And 51 percent said they prefer someone with political experience, versus 38 percent who want an outsider. By a margin of 36 percent to 16 percent, voters said her association with WWE makes them less likely to vote for her.
Does any of that make Simmons feel vindicated?
“Next question,” he said.
Simmons said he is comfortable with his decision to stand down.
“I had a party over the weekend for my staff,” he said. “Some have already secured positions with other campaigns. That was the point.”
And he loves the idea of rising in the polls after leaving the field.
“I have to say, when you curtail your campaign and you surge ahead, that’s an interesting phenomenon,” Simmons said, laughing. “I have to give it a lot of thought.”